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Be Prepared for Postal Rule Change on Personal Information

(March 14, 2005) A new rule promulgated by the United States Postal Service (USPS) regarding the use of personal information in solicitations will go into effect on June 1, 2005.

In response to the rule, charities should review their mailing and the rule's guidelines to ensure that their mailings can continue to be sent at nonprofit rates. The Alliance of Nonprofit Mailers (ANM) has created a website to help answer most questions about the rule and ensure charities are in compliance. The website includes links to a 'decision tree' published by the USPS to help educate charities about what types of mailings are affected.

Because of advocacy efforts by groups like ANM and AFP, the rule should not adversely affect most nonprofit organizations. However, some questions still remain about how the rule will be implemented and how the USPS will define 'personal information.'

A Potentially Disastrous Proposal

In April 2004, the USPS issued a proposed rule that would have forced charities to choose between including personal donor information in their communications and mailing at First Class rates, or distributing generic materials at the cheaper Standard Mail rate.

The original proposed rule set up a new 'exclusive purpose' test for advertising or fundraising that contains personal information. Under the proposal, personal information would only have been permitted in Standard Mail where:

  • advertising and solicitation was the exclusive purpose of the letter, and
  • the personal information included in the letter was directly related to the advertising or solicitation and was used only to increase the effectiveness of the advertisement or solicitation.

This change would have been extremely burdensome for the many charities that include educational materials with their fundraising solicitations. If a nonprofit mailing piece was personalized beyond name and address, the purpose of the mailing must solely have been for fundraising. Otherwise, charities would have been forced to send it First Class, creating additional costs of as much as 20 cents per letter.

Small, But Important Change

Bowing to pressure from the nonprofit sector, the USPS made a minor, but important change in the language, which now states that 'The exclusive reason for inclusion of all of the personal information is to support the advertising or solicitation in the mailpiece [emphasis added]." Essentially, the new language changed the focus of the rule away from the purpose of the mailing to the purpose of the personal information.

This change, while critical to allowing mailings that have dual purposes, still presents some challenges for nonprofits. First, the USPS has yet to define exactly what 'personal information' is. Second, personal information can only be used to support the solicitation part of the mailing. Personal information (beyond name and address) used to support other types of communications - advocacy, education, even record keeping or donor receipts - may force the charity to have to send the mailing at First Class rates.

The sector continues to have discussions with the USPS about how the final rule will be implemented. AFP will keep members apprised of any changes or clarifications before the rule goes into effect at the beginning of June.

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